The Case of Itaewon Homicide
Director: Hong Ki-seon
Writer: Lee Maeng-yu
Release Date: September 10, 2009
Cast: Jang Geun-suk, Jeong Jin-yeong, Shin Seung-hwan, Oh Kwang-rok, Ko Chang-Seok
Based on real events that have been ‘dramatised and changed for dramatic purposes’ the story tells of an incident in 1997 when a student was found murdered in the bathroom of a burger restaurant. Two suspects are found, both of whom are American-born Korean and both of whom blame each other for the murder. It’s up to prosecutor and defence to discover the truth and jail the killer.
It might seem unfair to compare ‘Itaewon Homicide’ to ‘Memories of Murder’ but seeing as the latter is the Gold Standard of murder films based on real events, and that its a personal favourite of mine, it’s inevitable. The film isn’t bad, and maybe the extensive review of the real events that I have read prevented any real shock or surprise in the narrative, but I felt that there was something lacking overall and that it was a touch flimsy and too many obvious devices in places.
That being said it’s still a good film to watch, the casting is cleverly done with Jang Geun-suk as the ‘innocent’ accused, his popularity allowing the audience to feel some empathy and warmth to an otherwise unattractive character. He does well in this role, a break from his normal cheerful persona and, combined with the fact he has to speak English through most of the film, it’s quite impressive. Its not perfect American accent of course, but it plays a vital part in itself.
Shin Seung-hwan who plays the other accused also does well as the spoiled rich kid, perhaps his heavy build and the almost porcine nature of the father also adding to the casting. It makes them seem more distasteful, after all, the audience needs to take sides between the two very flawed leads. Unlike ‘Memories of Murder’ there is no clear delineation between who is right and wrong.
One of the interesting angles I feel it portrays the best is how the battle between the lawyers goes beyond the actual case and how it’s so easy to forget the real victim and his family. Also, that the US system and the Korean system are at odds with each other demonstrates very clearly you cannot have a country with sets of laws for people. This particularly applies if the two investigations are at odds with each other, particularly if one interferes with the process and the other shows incompetence and corruption.
In the end I give the movie three stars – worth watching, but lacks something special. It is hard to build suspense when the audience already knows the ending, but compare it to how Bong Joon-ho managed to do so for ‘Memories of Murder’, it might have been wiser to have taken a different angle with this case, namely that of the victim’s family.